What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of fat that’s produced by your body and found naturally in some foods. Your total cholesterol level is made up of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
What is its function?
You need cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and bile (helps you digest food). Low levels have even been linked to depression. But if it gets too high it might increase your risk of heart disease — putting you at risk of things like a heart attack or stroke.
What can cause it to change?
There are a number of things that can raise your cholesterol to an unhealthy level:
- eating foods high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats
- lack of exercise
- drinking too much alcohol
- being overweight
- a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia
If your cholesterol levels become excessively high it's called hyperlipidaemia. Currently, over half of all adults in the UK suffer from raised cholesterol — so it’s worth keeping an eye on your level.
What are the most common symptoms?
There are no symptoms for high total cholesterol so regular checks are recommended.
What factors within my control could influence it?
There are lots of ways to lower your cholesterol, including:
- avoiding foods high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats — for example, butter, margarine, cream, and sausages
- avoiding fast food and fried foods
- eating high-fibre foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- eating lean sources of protein, like chicken, fish, and legumes
- eating oily fish, like salmon and mackerel
- exercising regularly — this can help raise your HDL “good” cholesterol
- losing weight if you’re overweight
- avoiding drinking too much alcohol
- not smoking